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How to Choose a Chocolate Company

How to Choose a Chocolate Company

Hello and good day!

If you are reading this email, you are likely already familiar with our chocolate company and maybe you've even done us the honor of buying some chocolate from us.

I thank you for your business and if you haven't bought any chocolate from us, I thank you for your time and awareness.

While we'd be happy to be an exclusive chocolate supplier for any of our wonderful customers, I feel an obligation to let you know that there are a lot of good chocolates out in the world besides ours. We use a single variety of cacao in all of our chocolate, and it has a distinctive flavor profile.

Other cacaos have different flavor profiles, and many of them are quite exquisite. That being the case, I wanted to offer up two criteria for choosing a chocolate company that you can feel great about. If you can get information on these two criteria, the company will have proven itself to be worth doing business with.

First, how was the cacao fermented?

This is a technical point that I've harped on a lot in these emails, but it is a fundamental consideration. You simply can't make fine chocolate without well fermented cacao.

The answer you want is that the cacao was fermented in a centralized processing facility. The facility could be run by a farmer's co-op, or a for profit business.

But whatever the case, a centralized processing facility leads to consistently fermented cacao and increases the odds that a knowledgeable person who cares has overseen the process. The alternative to this is individual cacao farmers processing cacao out on their farms. This is rough sledding for several reasons.

First, farmers are busy and generally tend to several other crops in addition to cacao, not to mention dealing with animals and handling the abundance of chores necessary for maintaining a productive farm. Doing a good job fermenting cacao is generally a bridge too far. There simply isn't enough bandwidth.

Second, good fermentation requires the right equipment and tools, and this requires a capital investment that farmers usually can't justify.

As a result, the fermentation will be done in a makeshift way. Instead of clean, wooden, fermenter boxes, fresh cacao will be thrown in a garbage bag and left leaning up against a tree. Instead of precisely measuring the cacao's progress using analytics, cacao farmers will tend to wing it.

They'll come back to a garbage bag filled with cacao a couple of days later and figure that it has been long enough. Instead of putting the fermented cacao up on a raised dryer bed, covered by plastic tarps for rain protection, they'll throw the cacao on a tarp spread out over the farm floor to dry.

The cacao can get rained on which causes mold and also there are a whole bunch of unsanitary things that happen on a farm floor.Animals can do what animals do on top of the cacao. There are all kinds of bugs and worms and creepy crawlies down there.

On to the third reason why individual farmers shouldn't ferment their own cacao. The inconsistent and haphazard nature of having hundreds or thousands of individual farmers process their own cacao forces the chocolate maker to make chocolate in a certain way.

They'll be forced to dark roast the cacao and try to rebuild the chocolate flavor synthetically. This leads to generic chocolate that tastes just like every other chocolate.

In particular, vanilla will be used to cover over poor fermentation and a dark roast, and this creates the ironic situation of many dark chocolates tasting like vanilla.

If you are looking for a delicious chocolate that is unique and flavorful, you don't want to get stuck with a generic chocolate that tastes like vanilla. But this is the almost inevitable path if centralized fermentation is not in place.

And now on to the second criteria. How many parties are between the cacao farmer and you?

This drives the economics of what a cacao farmer receives for their cacao. The more people in the middle, the less the cacao farmer will get. And this is pernicious, because cacao is a pretty important part of chocolate.

You might even say it's the most important part.

So, the idea that the people who provide the most important ingredient get the least is pretty unfair. Also, cacao tends to grow in remote parts of third world countries. That isn't the case across the board, but it is mostly the case.

The idea that the hardest working and poorest people in the supply chain should get the least isn't cool. That is our take anyhow.

Think about buying chocolate from the grocery store. That alone adds two parties and two mark-ups to the supply chain. A distributor who sells to grocery stores needs to take a profit and the retailer needs to take a profit.

In cacao producing countries, the situation is even worse. In general, there are 5-6 players marking up cacao before it gets to a chocolate maker.

A guy goes to a cacao farm with a pickup truck and buys cacao. The guy in the pickup truck sells cacao to an aggregator in the closest big city. The aggregator sells cacao to a national distributor near the coast. The national distributor sells to an international cacao broker.

And the cacao broker sells to a chocolate company. All take mark ups.

All of the mark ups are money that the cacao farmer themselves could earn, in theory, if they had access to markets. But they are located in remote places and don't usually have access to markets.

However, there are some companies, like ours and a few others, who buy cacao direct from cacao farmers, oversee the fermentation and drying, contract out chocolate making or make chocolate themselves, and then sell direct to their customers, not through distributors and retailers.

The number of players in between you and the cacao farmers is just one or two. It is just one in our case, us.

From the time cacao is cut off the tree until the time you buy chocolate from us, we own the cacao and chocolate. It is never sold to anybody else.

This allows a company to pay high prices for cacao while still offering customers a reasonable price. It squares the circle.All that and the chocolate is better tasting too.

I understand that it takes time for a new chocolate company to build up a customer base in the beginning and they may need to sell through distributors to survive.They need to do that to make sales and pay the bills.

But in that case, you should ask how they get their cacao.

And if they don't know or if they buy from some big international broker, there is a good chance that the supply chain in country isn't operating in the best interest of cacao farmers.

By the way, this whole construct is what leads to things like child slavery in chocolate too. Unfortunately, 99% of chocolate companies out there won't fit the criteria above.

But the ones who do are showing how much they care and are worth supporting.


Anyhow, I am running out of steam now and I thank you for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!